carpenter bee on a flower

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica). Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Updated: March 2, 2021

Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica)

  • Carpenter bees are the largest native bees in the United States, along with bumblebee queens.

  • Often confused with bumble bees, carpenter bees can be easily distinguished by looking at their abdomens. The abdomen of a carpenter bee is black, shiny, and hairless--sometimes called a patent leather butt. Bumblebee abdomens are fuzzy.

  • A single carpenter bee can live up to three years, and there are generally one to two generations per year.

  • Adults overwinter in old brood tunnels previously constructed in wood, emerging in early spring to mate. Females then burrow into wood, excavating new brood, or nesting, tunnels to lay their eggs.

  • In spring, male carpenter bees can often be found hovering outside the entrance to nesting tunnels. Although their large size, loud buzzing, and defensive behavior can be intimidating, they are unable to sting and should simply be ignored.

  • Carpenter bees pollinate using "buzz pollination", an especially efficient type of pollination where bees use their powerful flight muscles to rapidly vibrate the flower, releasing the pollen out of the anther.

  • They are effective pollinators of eggplant, tomato, and many other vegetables and flowers, including native wild plants, thus contributing to food sources for birds and other wildlife.

  • Common nesting sites include eaves, rafters, siding, decks, and outdoor furniture.

  • The easiest way to control carpenter bees is to prevent infestations by using pressure treated wood or painting any exposed untreated wood. Both make the wood less attractive to bee tunneling.

By University of Maryland graduate student Veronica Yurchak. February 2020